Anti-nuke ac­tivists seek a Greta

Or­ga­ni­za­tions call for Canada to push NATO on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - MIKE BLANCHFIEL­D

OT­TAWA — Ask Hugo Slim about teenaged cli­mate change ac­tivist Greta Thun­berg and one thought comes to mind: if only there were a young per­son like her who was that wor­ried about nu­clear weapons.

Slim is the Geneva-based head of pol­icy and hu­man­i­tar­ian diplo­macy for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross, and he was in Ot­tawa re­cently to meet Cana­dian anti-nu­clear weapons ac­tivists.

Those ac­tivists are toil­ing, largely out of the public eye, to per­suade Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to treat the pos­si­bil­ity of nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion as se­ri­ously as he does the threat posed by cli­mate change.

They are urg­ing Trudeau to push Canada’s NATO al­lies, who are meet­ing Tues­day in Lon­don, to start talk­ing with non-NATO nu­clear states about lay­ing down their atomic arms one day.

Canada doesn’t have nu­clear weapons but its mem­ber­ship in NATO means it ad­heres to the 29-coun­try mil­i­tary al­liance’s nu­clear-de­ter­rent pol­icy — that it sup­ports hav­ing nu­clear weapons in its arse­nal es­sen­tially be­cause its ad­ver­saries have them.

Slim works for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­poses nu­clear weapons, and is known for its scrupu­lous neu­tral­ity, so he says he doesn’t ex­pect the Trudeau govern­ment to sud­denly swear off nu­clear weapons any time soon. But he wishes some­one like 16-year-old Thun­berg would come along to get un­der his skin and tweak the con­sciences of other lead­ers who pos­sess or sup­port nu­clear weapons.

“There are two big ex­is­ten­tial is­sues around the hu­man species at the mo­ment — cli­mate change and nu­clear weapons. Cli­mate change has re­ally mo­bi­lized young peo­ple across the world. Nu­clear weapons is still seen as a slightly older per­sons 1960s, ’70s is­sue. It’s hard to gal­va­nize younger peo­ple to rec­og­nize the risk,” Slim said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“If you look de­mo­graph­i­cally, through his­tory, you’ll no­tice one thing about po­lit­i­cal change: that it’s al­ways young peo­ple that drive po­lit­i­cal change,” Slim added. “It’s about them see­ing things and play­ing roles as po­lit­i­cal change-mak­ers, as they al­ways have in hu­man civ­i­liza­tion.”

The ICRC is try­ing to build sup­port for the new Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nu­clear Weapons, which was ne­go­ti­ated in 2017. More than 120 coun­tries sup­port the treaty, and Slim is hope­ful 50 coun­tries will rat­ify it by next year which would bring it into force. But it has no sup­port among the coun­tries that pos­sess nu­clear weapons — in­clud­ing the U.S. and its al­lies, in­clud­ing Canada.

Canada has a cred­i­ble track record in “weapons diplo­macy” in part due to the fact it helped lead the in­ter­na­tional ef­fort in the 1990s that led to a treaty that bans the use of anti-per­son­nel land­mines, Slim said.

Slim pointed to what many see as a trou­bling back­slide in in­ter­na­tional agree­ments aimed at curb­ing nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion: the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nu­clear deal that now in­cludes Bri­tain, France, China, Rus­sia and Ger­many; and the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces Treaty be­tween the U.S. and Rus­sia is no more.

Canada should use its seat at the NATO ta­ble to at least en­cour­age the first steps to­ward a non-nu­clear world, said Earl Tur­cotte, the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Net­work to Abol­ish Nu­clear Weapons, a coali­tion of non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions formed in the late 1990s. Rec­og­niz­ing that NATO isn’t go­ing to lay down its nu­clear arms soon, Tur­cotte said the al­liance should be­gin talk­ing to nu­clear-armed states about a fu­ture with­out the weapons.

Tur­cotte’s or­ga­ni­za­tion has sent two let­ters to Trudeau urg­ing him to cham­pion nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment as his fa­ther, Pierre El­liott Trudeau, tried to do in the twi­light of his prime min­is­ter­ship in the early 1980s.


Ex­perts see a trou­bling back­slide in agree­ments aimed at curb­ing nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion.

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